I’ve heard heartbreaking stories lately of families with two dogs who seem closer than close when suddenly a horrible, bloody fight breaks out. I can count on one hand how many scuffles Rico and Roxy have been in, but none caused injury. In fact, I remember their first skirmish – a misunderstanding over the water bowl – ended with just a verbal correction from me.
But it was a verbal correction with a healthy dose of Kiai (pronounced “key-yah”) power fueling it. That’s when they sense, she’s really serious.
What’s a Kiai?
It’s that sound many martial art students make when throwing a technique.
It’s definitely NOT:
- frantic or panicked sounding
It’s, by definition, the verbal expression of Ki.
Ki, or in Chinese, chi (also spelled qi), is the spiritual energy every living thing has inside. Ki energy can be used for healing, as in Reiki, or used for destruction, as in breaking boards.
Hiroyuki Teshin Hamada explained Kiai in his book, Spirit of Japanese Classical Martial Arts: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives (1990):
It describes the sound derived from the lower abdomen rather than the vocal cords … Whatever the sound may be, this is the barometer of spiritual involvement. (pg. 91)
Or, as The Classic Budoka puts it, it sounds like a lion’s roar, not a dog’s squeaky toy.
Parallels with Singing
If you’ve ever participated in chorus, or just enjoy singing, you know a little something about breath support. Singers learn to tap into the strength and support of the lower abdominal area and core muscles for vocal power, keeping stress off the vocal cords.
To deliver a good Kiai, use those same muscles to support the sound.
How to Practice Your Kiai
In kung fu, we did an exercise to feel the power of a well-executed Kiai. We stood about three feet from a partner and Kiai-ed. No movements. The goal was to get our partners to shift back with just the power of our voices.
Believe me, a well-delivered Kiai, by itself, can move someone. Including your dog. Going deep into your gut and pulling all of that energy out in your vocalized correction is a verbal cue that’ll leave an impression.
The nice thing about Kiai as a technique is that you don’t have to be loud or singing to practice it. Engage your lower abdominal muscles and core muscles to support you when you’re having an ordinary conversation. Try giving any cues to your dog, even sit, with engaged abs. Move up to using it for smaller corrections like jumping.
But to use it as a technique for your verbal correction, you need to almost visualize throwing your Kiai with the same power and speed of a punch. (Though, for goodness sake, don’t physically hit your dog!) Whatever word or sound you choose to use – I use “eh-eh” or “hey” – that quick, sharp, snapping, forceful sound is what will grab your dog’s attention.
Kiai to Break Up a Skirmish
A well-delivered Kiai could create the pause in action you need to create physical space between two fighting dogs. But if you simply scream, like a squeaky toy, it could make things worse. So make sure you can speak from your lower abs before trying this in a high-intensity situation.
Once you can feel the difference between sound originating in your stomach versus your vocal cords, try using it during the next skirmish. By then, your dogs will know those verbal corrections are no joke.